by Rabbi Sarah Tasman
this piece was originally published on Rabbi Tasman’s blog with her permission to republish
Those of you who have watched the beautiful video for the Beneath the Surface program at Mayyim Hayyim Living Waters Community Mikveh and Education Center or who have participated in the program know how amazing it is. If you haven’t yet watched the video, watch it now. Seeing this video, after helping create this program back in 2008 along with Penina Adelman and Lisa Berman, is really an indescribable joy. When we started the program, we were very truly piloting it and “testing the waters” to see how it would go. I worked with a couple of other wonderful educators, including Naomi Adland (whom I trained as an ImmerseNYC mikveh guide last spring) and Laura Hyman. Lauren Bohne co-facilitated subsequent cohorts, and now Bev Klau currently co-facilitates with Lisa Berman.
I got to teach the daughters for the first few years of the program and helped create some special rituals around coming of age including a “Bat Mitzvah seder,” a water drawing blessing activity for the holiday of Simchat Beit Hashoeva, as well as a new moon mandala of important life moments. I remember empowering the mothers about their significant role in teaching their daughters. I remember asking the girls what kinds of life experiences they thought mikveh had been a “required” ritual for in the Torah. Immediately they said, “Bat Mitzvah!” They were awed when I told them that not only does Bat Mitzvah not exist in the Torah, it wasn’t even a commonplace ritual for girls until the past 50 years or so, and mikveh was not a Bat Mitzah ritual until more recently. I was also so moved to see the rituals that the pairs created together to mark this time in their lives.
In those first years of the program, we tried things out and got feedback, made some changes, and shaped the program into the smoothly running high-demand program it is today. The new curriculum for Beneath the Surface is now available for other communities to use (no mikveh neccessary!). The program is so successful and so many of the pairs say they wish they could do more learning together at Mayyim Hayyim that Lisa Berman dreamed up a new program called Bridging the Gap for Beneath the Surface alumnae and older girls (8th and 9th grade) and their moms.
Over the past six months, Lisa and I worked together to create this new curriculum for Bridging the Gap, with me driving from New Haven, CT to Newton, MA in August, October, and December for planning and then twice in January to teach. Again, I had the opportunity to help Mayyim Hayyim “test the waters” for a program and again I am amazed at what happens when we can create something this good from scratch.
In our initial planning stages, Lisa and I discussed the themes and goals of the program: giving girls and moms a chance to reconnect with each other and Mayyim Hayyim, an opportunity to reflect on their relationship and give them communication and resources and tools, and provide a space for them to create together – through writing, art, and the ritual of handwashing. I then wrote out each of the elements of the program and put them on colored note cards and played around with the order and flow of the two sessions. I then drove back home to New Haven and over the next few months I wrote out the time line, procedure notes and facilitator instructions for the program. Lisa and tweaked things a bit and each followed up with specific elements of the session.
One of my favorite parts of the program was teaching the moms and daughters about the ritual of handwashing and thinking about it in a new way. We discussed how handwashing makes your hands holy or ready/prepared for whatever they will do next (e.g. bless, eat, create, etc) and how the act of handwashing makes you slow down and stop for a moment to sanctify transition. It can also be away to wash away, start over, and let go. In the first session they painted their very own handwashing cups, in the the second session they used those cups to do their own special ritual.
Pairs of moms and daughters also had a chance to think about their best selves and how they can best listen to and communicate with each other. Incorporating themes of the tree holiday of Tu Bishvat and the tree as a symbol of learning, handing down traditions, strength and growth, each pair also had a chance to create a tree that represented their relationship.
I cannot wait to see how Bridging the Gap continues to grow and develop.
Rabbi Sarah Tasman is a longtime Mayyim Hayyim Mikveh Guide and Educator. She co-created the Beneath the Surface program in 2008 with Mayyim Hayyim Education Center Director Lisa Berman and Penina Adelman. She most recently co-created the Bridging the Gap program with Lisa Berman.